Not since wolves were re-introduced to Yellowstone Park has there been such a howl.
The Bush administration is retreating from the stand taken by the waning Clinton administration on the use of snowmobiles in Yellowstone and Grand Teton Parks and the highway that links them. The Environmental Protection Agency had recommended in 1999 that the clattering little tractors be banned, period. The two-cycle engines were polluters and their ineffable noise deprived wild and human life of the sanctity of silence deserved during the long winters.
There arose such a clatter that the Bush administration got up to see what was the matter. The matter was that a major industry was wounded and the entrepreneurs of West Yellowstone, Montana, dubbed "snowmobile capitol of the world," complained that their livelihood was endangered. Over objections of outfits like the Wilderness Society, the National Park Service has published new rules. Beginning in December of 2003, the number of snowmobiles admitted to the Parks will be limited to 1,100 a day. That's 260 more than the daily average of 840 of the machines that have entered the Parks over the past decade, but during busy weekends as many as 1,600 or more a day have visited.
The West Yellowstone entrance is to allow a maximum of 550 per day, eliciting a yowl from Glen Loomis, a snowmobile rental businessman in West Yellowstone, who says "our business would be cut right in half." On the other ski, Kristen Brengel of the Wilderness Society says, "this is just a boon to the industry."
More regulations are in the works. Eighty percent of the daily limit is to be led by commercial guides. Rented snowmobiles will have to have the quieter four-stroke engines. A Yellowstone spokeswoman says the snowmobiles will be allowed "only on groomed roads." And travel will be restricted to the hours from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. There's to be no ad-libbing off onto the wilderness trails, or off the roads at all.
How are the limits to be enforced? Or even calculated? There are five entrances to Yellowstone alone, four of which are closed to vehicular traffic in winter. Who counts them and collates the numbers? What prevents 1,100 snowmobiles a day from entering and simply all of them staying for a few days? (Perhaps Old Faithful is especially bountiful in its eruptions, or perhaps a pack of deafened wolves surrounds the Lodge, begging to be taken to Glacier Park where snowmobiles are and will remain banned.)
The logistics are still being worked out. Besides , the limits happen next year. This year there are no limits.
There is one. No JetSkis, the trade name for what park people call "personal watercraft," are allowed in Yellowstone Lake or on any of the parks' waterways.
But wait. That is another simmering battle working its way through the courts. There are 87 units, seashores, lakeshores, recreation areas under National Park Service jurisdiction that are wet. In many of these areas, the zooming JetSkis have been banned pending impact studies to be made by each of the units. The Park Service was to have finished an overall environmental assessment of the effect of JetSkis throughout the nation by September 2002. It missed the deadline and as of now each park is making its own assessment.
We'll finish this later. I have to take the ATV down to the store. It's three blocks away, for gosh sake.